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Partial upshot of the botched election



A polling centre at Mirpur in the capital Dhaka on January 5. — New Age/Sony Ramany A polling centre at Mirpur in the capital Dhaka on January 5. — New Age/Sony Ramany

A dismal voter turnout may technically and dubiously meet the legal and constitutional requirement but it failed to earn moral and political legitimacy for the election process. The number game to deviously enhance and claim greater voter participation makes it even more doubtful and deplorable, writes Omar Khasru

THE bungling Election Commission, whose actions never fails to frustrate, irritate and fluster the majority of the people, took more than two days to finally come up with the proportion of electorate who cast their votes in the farcical and botched January 5 elections. Such percentage should really have been automatically and readily assessable. It apparently had the commission ponder, reflect and plan to reach a figure that would give a semblance of credibility and validation, and avoid embarrassment.
So after what seemed like elaborate deliberation, musing, consultation and consideration, along with hide and seek action, the proportion of vote cast the Election Commission came up with is a rather hefty 40.56 per cent. This has no link with reality. It perhaps echoed the drivel broadcast over the BTV, likeminded ‘private BTV channels’ and the account in highly partisan press but did not meet any objective and unbiased count or calculation.
The percentage the unreliable and erratic Election Commission, lacking in trust and dependability, came up with seemingly used a multiplier factor as well as a threshold aspect. The factual and genuine percentage, it would seem, was multiplied by a number between 3 and 4 to come up with the fabricated and exaggerated figure.
Based on the puffed-up voter turnout figure that the commission had announced from different polling centres and constituencies, the estimate of 39.81 per cent was bandied about a day earlier in the media. Someone in the commission then probably had the bright idea that over 40 threshold number appears way better than 39 and fraction. And eureka, now we have 40 per cent and change.
The Fair Election Monitoring Alliance or FEMA, an election observation group, had announced on the election date that less than 10 per cent votes were cast by 2:00pm. With mathematical extrapolation this would indicate that the final voting percentage would be less than 14 per cent.
Another poll observer group, the Bangladesh Initiative for Political Development or BIPD, announced that 14 or 15 per cent of the electorate cast their vote. Other neutral observers implied similar figure or less. The notable exception was the Election Working Group. In a press briefing, it announced that 30.1 percent voters participated in the disputed election.
The EWG at a cursory glance would also seem to use multiplier and threshold features perhaps to cut a little slack. The multiplier would seem to be between 2 and 3 and its estimate of voter participation was threshold figure of 30-plus per cent rather than 29 and fraction. The group, facing tough media questions, conceded that it had observed the election only partially, was denied access to some polling centres and did not focus on vote rigging or ballot box stuffing.
Ekushey TV correspondent announced a 17.5 per cent voter turnout. Close and objective scrutiny by other media outlets divulged that the vote cast was at best 15 per cent. Claim of much higher voter participation would seem false and misleading, perhaps even sinister and ill-motivated.
A dismal voter turnout may technically and dubiously meet the legal and constitutional requirement but it failed to earn moral and political legitimacy for the election process. The number game to deviously enhance and claim greater voter participation makes it even more doubtful and deplorable.
Some pro-government partisan academic persons claimed that a lot more voters would participate if not for the risk and fear factor. But Dhaka city was safer and secured due to sufficient law enforcement presence on election day. However, one constituency officially garnered less than 11 per cent and another less than 7 per cent voters. That would surely indicate a distinct and palpable voter indifference to the shoddy process, contrary to the opinion of the partisan intellectuals.
It might have taken the Election Commission an inordinately long time to reveal the proportion of votes cast but it was incredibly hasty in publishing the gazette authenticating 290 elected lawmakers. The reason, according to press reports, is that the ruling party wanted it right away so that a new government could be sworn in by January 12, not willing to wait until the official expiration of the ninth parliament on January 24.
A leading English-language daily on January 7 headlined that the election had produced the strongest majority with the weakest opposition. The fact is there is hardly any opposition at all, given that most seats have been divided among various likeminded parties, part of the current alliance, as a backroom deal and fixed arrangement, As a matter of fact, there is no real opposition and all are in the same boat, metaphorically speaking.
The Jatiya Party with 33 seats has been entrusted with the responsibility of assuming the status of a faithful and domesticated opposition in parliament. One member of the party, a current minister to boot, came up with the ridiculous and bizarre notion that part of the party will act as a government partner and the other part as the opposition group. He clearly is reluctant to forfeit the lofty privileges and fringe benefits of being a minister.
The one-sided election unfortunately still produced post-poll violence and casualties. The most serious violence was between two groups of the Awami Leaguers in Dohar on the outskirts of Dhaka. Five Awami League supporters of victorious Salma Islam of the Jatiya party were hacked to death by supporters of the defeated Awami League candidate and former state minister Abdul Mannan Khan. He and associates were apparently incensed by some Awami Leaguers supporting a candidate from a different party.
The prime minister in her post-poll news briefing declared that strict instruction were given to the law enforcers to combat post-poll violence and protect the life and property of all at any cost. She also indicated that any violence would be severely dealt with. It would be significant to see if the murderous Awami Leaguers face any retribution and due punishment.
The most disgraceful post-poll violence and retaliation took place against religious minority voters for exercising their right to vote or voting for the rival of the losing candidate. This dreadful crime has displaced many minority families from their homes and neighbourhoods. Politicians of all shades have condemned the shocking and shameful act of brutality and reprisal against the religious minorities.
The government needs to take swift and stern exemplary actions against the criminal perpetrators and needs to answer why it could not prevent the cruelty. The attack against the religious minorities puts the whole nation to shame and dishonour. Unfortunately, this has not totally stopped as yet. If the government had ceased from wholesale victimising and oppressing political opponents and started taking firm and uncompromising action against these heinous criminals, the situation might have been better.
The human rights commissioner, who seemed to have been on a prolonged break, has reappeared after a sustained interval to proclaim that the government failed to provide proper protection to the minority electorates. The tyranny against the opposition party members usually evades his attention. He occasionally expresses his outrage on selective violation of fundamental rights without any discernable or tangible action. Like other statutory bodies, performance of the human rights commission has also been immensely disappointing.
The government arrest of opposition leaders and activists on trumped-up charges started vigorously anew after the election. In a post-election fresh crackdown, four BNP leaders, including BNP vice-chairperson Selima Rahman and chairperson’s adviser Khandker Mahbub Hossain have been arrested. It appeared that anyone who talked to the media is a convenient and prompt target.
The January 5 election has received few takers in the international community perhaps except the big neighbour India. The UN secretary General, US state department, Canadian, Australian, British, French, German and Japanese governments have declared in no uncertain terms that due to built-in shortcomings, including boycott by the main opposition party and most other parties, voter apathy and sheer absence of meaningful contest, this election is totally unacceptable. The foreign prominent press, except a few Indian news dailies, has also come down hard on it.
The New Age editorial on January 7 fretted that despite the non-acceptance of the election outcome by the majority and it lacking political legitimacy, the ruling party is hell bent on clinging to power. The prime minister in her press conference implied alarmingly that she ‘will hold her ground notwithstanding the legitimacy issue’ and all the pressure, diplomatic, economic or otherwise, inflicted on her at home or abroad. The government sounds dogged to endure the critical reaction of foreign leaders and adverse reports in the foreign media.
The ruling party and allies seem to be in a different world altogether, odiously claiming a free and fair election, participated by enthusiastic electorates with courage. The urgency now is to form a new government and oppress, repress, suppress and subjugate the opposition and dissent with renewed vigour and malice.
News outlets have announced that the government is decided to take the hard line and zero tolerance policy. It is not clear when the regime has not been in hard line and has not used the zero-tolerance strong-arm tactics and actions against the political opponent in the past. The government seems now attempting to distract the people’s collective attention from the slipshod election by any means.
The persistent zero tolerance and sustained brutality are all part of that scheme. The tyranny on religious minority may also be part of that.
Omar Khasru is a former university administrator who writes on contemporary political and social issues.




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